On the basis of one single and a few cameos, Canibus has been designated the savior of hip-hop. His droolingly anticipated debut album picks up where his cutting anti-LL Cool J tract, “Second Round K.O.,” left off. (Their feud started when LL thought Canibus dissed him while recording LL’s “4, 3, 2, 1.”) Can-I-Bus is steeped in old-school verbal swipes and boasting skills. But Canibus (a.k.a. Germaine Williams) has loftier goals than denigrating aging rappers. Even though he’s a newcomer, he’s taken it upon himself to offer advice and career guidance to fellow hip-hoppers. On Can-I-Bus, he counsels rappers on record-deal basics (“Niggonometry”), extols the virtues of being true to wife and child (“I Honor U”), decries fans who bring guns to concerts (“What’s Going On”), and flames “spineless, rhymeless” musical competitors in order to whip them into shape (“Get Retarded”). “I came to see that hip-hop is never tarnished,” Canibus raps–and from the sound of his terse, hardened delivery, he means it.
At a time when gangsta Glock-and-spiel fantasies still propel albums into the top 10, Canibus’ self-help approach is undeniably refreshing. But Can-I-Bus still feels like the work of a promising, but not fully developed, talent. Even with remake king Wyclef Jean pitching in, most of the music is minimalist at best, bland at worst–heavy on the beats, light on melodic hooks or sonic innovation. Canibus can be a bit heavy himself sometimes: “Channel Zero,” an alien-invasion manifesto about Area 51 that would have fit perfectly onto the X-Files soundtrack, is delivered with so much gravity that Canibus sounds a little demented. His devotion to the lyrical slam and to self-respect earmark Canibus as a contender, but it wouldn’t hurt him to learn a few things about record making–from, say, LL?